Band in Berlin, the new Broadway musical that tells the story of Germany's Comedian Harmonists through song and docudrama elements, opens Mar. 7 at the Helen Hayes Theatre.
The real-life vocal sextet, the Hudson Shad, will impersonate the historic Harmonists, the popular Nazi-era singing act that was silenced by Hitler's regime. Previews began Feb. 19.
The 100-minute, intermissionless Band in Berlin utilizes film, voiceover, projections and shadow puppetry and features songs that became closely identified with the Harmonists: "Stormy Weather," "Night and Day," "Tea for Two," "Whistle While You Work," Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call" and even a vocal "arrangement" of the overture to The Barber of Seville.
Co-director, playwright and co-conceiver Susan Feldman's musical, seen in March 1998 at Philadelphia's American Music Theatre Festival, features 21 period songs from the original Harmonists' repertoire.
The Comedian Harmonists were a six-member, male vocal group (five vocalists and a pianist) with a smooth, lighthearted elegance. They rose to international fame in the 1920s with tours and recordings, including a performance at Radio City Music Hall. Because three of the members were Jewish, the group was squelched with the rise of Hitler's Third Reich, and the group disbanded. The Harmonists' music was eventually deemed "inappropriate for the morale of the German people," according to the show's production notes. Design elements in the show (including the unusual print advertising) incorporate banned art of the period, underlining the suppression of European artists.
The group's surviving member, Roman Cykowski, who is used as the show's off-stage narrator (played by Herbert Rubens), died Nov. 11, 1998. He was 97.
The Harmonists are played by Mark Bleeke, as bass Leshnikoff; Timothy Leigh Evans, as second tenor Collin; Hugo Munday, as lyric baritone Frommermann; Peter Becker, as baritone Cykowski; Wilbur Pauley as bass Biberti; and Robert Wolinsky as pianist Bootz.
The production is co-conceived, co-directed and choreographed by Patricia Birch, whose musical staging credits range from Grease to Pacific Overtures . Robert V. Strauss, Jeffrey Ash, Randall L. Wreghitt and Gayle A. Francis are producers.
Berlin played the American Music Theatre Festival March 11-22, 1998, at the WHYY Forum Theatre in Philadelphia. That staging also featured the Hudson Shad, overseen by Feldman and Birch. The show was originally staged as a workshop at Arts at St. Ann's in April 1992. It was further developed and ran 39 performances at the GeVa Theatre in Rochester, NY in 1994 and was adapted for radio by Feldman in 1995.
Designers are Douglas Schmidt (scenic), Jonathan Bixby (costume), Kirk Bookman (lighting), Richard Law (visual images), David Schnirman (sound), Anthony Chase (filmmaker-editor) and Rick Rondine (filmmaker). Wilbur Pauley, of the Hudson Shad, is musical director and arranger.
The Helen Hayes Theatre is at 240 W. 44th St. Tickets are $65. Call (212) 239-6200.
At least two other Comedian Harmonists projects exist. Barry Manilow is developing a Harmonists musical, Harmony, which was seen at the La Jolla Playhouse, and Miramax Films will release "The Harmonists," by director Jose Vilsmaier and screenwriter Klaus Richter.